Just as I was sitting at my usual spot at MPS on Monday evening , it dawned upon me that the issues that residents brought up were the very institutions that Mr Lee and his team set-up during Singapore’s early years. Things like the CPF, HDB Housing schemes and the Police Force, these institutions have continued to evolve since but they each served pivotal roles in our lives.
Having been to condolences sites set up in the heartlands, it was a solemn sight seeing Singaporeans pay their last tributes to Mr Lee. Many teary-eyed, others silently weeping; it was testament to the impact one man had on their individual lives. The impact Mr Lee’s works had on Singapore can never be fully comprehended in writings or words. Like what many have wisely said, the most accurate depiction of his contributions to Singapore is best seen by just looking around you. There is really nothing more accurate than that. He and his team had laid a stable foundation for us to build on, thus the Singapore we see today.
I don’t think we as Singaporeans can fully comprehend the gravity and magnitude of this pivotal moment in history – a legend has passed on. Every day over the past weeks, the nation would anxiously await the statement from the Prime Minister’s Office on the condition of Mr Lee’s heath. Every liner allowed the public to get a little glimpse into his condition; every line read over, every word interpreted. Everyone was praying for a miracle that he would get well but as the days passed, we all somehow knew deep down inside that this may just be it. Three days has passed since the news broke, and Singaporeans are still grappling with the fact that Singapore’s founding father is no more.
Mr Lee has no longer been in active politics for some time now, but somehow it was his presence that assured Singaporeans that Singapore would be alright. We know that with his wise counsel and keen insight, our interests will definitely be looked after and cared for. Now that this warm assuring flame is gone, Singaporeans, I feel, know that Singapore would be different henceforth and it will be for the next generation of leaders to chart our course. It is the feeling of nervous excitement, knowing that things are at an “inflexion” point but at the same time excited for the possibilities ahead.
As tributes flow in locally and internationally, both positive and negative words are said but no words are enough to speak of his legacy and contributions. After all, he was ultimately a man of deeds.
As cliché as it may sound, Mr Lee has always been someone I looked up and admired since young. Through reading the many tribute pieces and from my past recollections these qualities of the man stood up most for me.
Mr Lee’s mad passion for Singapore and his job was nothing short of inspiring. They say that if you have a job that you love, you will not have to work for a day in your life. I doubt Mr Lee saw being PM a job for him, it was his life calling, his life. The story of the Red Box showed how much he loved Singapore; in 1996 after undergoing a heart operation, he woke up after the operation and the first thing he did was to ask for his red box so that he could continue his unfinished work. Even when he was grieving from the loss of his wife back in 2010, he saw a piece of thrash while taking a stroll along the Singapore River and immediately called his guards to take a picture of it and he followed up on it thereafter. Small incidents, but they speak volumes of the man’s commitment and passion. His relentless commitment to his ideals was evident even after he left office. Formulated while he was in office, his vision of a Clean and Green Singapore was one he took personal responsibility to see to its fruition. What struck me was that he would even go as far as deciding the species of tress to be planted and would personally question officers if they did not do a good job looking after the trees. Even after leaving office, he has never failed to plant a tree yearly in his constituency. Leading by example, he has never failed to follow through on what he believed in.
His sheer grit and tenacity as a leader was unrivalled; as long as he sets his mind and heart to it, he will get it done. His end goal has been clear from day one – to make Singapore into a striving and prosperous city state and he did whatever it took to get us to where we are today. In the early days to win elections, he learnt Mandarin and Hokkien to better communicate with the electorate and he would take lessons and practice his languages on a daily basis to get better at it. It was painful but he did what was necessary. Also, Mr Lee was a tireless communicator, in order to convince the people on the importance and need for merger; he did 12 talk shows over the radio in 1961 to reach out to the masses. There were times he was so drained that he slept on floor of the studio room to recover his energy. Eventually, the people voted in favor of merger. Even after independence, Mr Lee was known for his pragmatic but unpopular policies. From compulsory National Service to “Stop at Two” and even the Bilingualism Policy, these policies were all met with strong opposition from the people. But he always tried his best to communicate about the need for these policies and created the environment necessary for these policies to take its course smoothly. Many criticized his bull-dozer method of policy implementation and his infamous grip on the media amongst others, but were those measures necessary given the circumstance and political climate of those days? You bet. As long as Mr Lee set his mind to it, nothing could stand in his way. And thankfully, those decisions though painful, benefited us in the long run.
Above all else, Mr Lee was human. He was a father, a husband and a leader of his people. His unwavering dedication to ensure close ties with his children despite his busy schedule is especially heartening. PM Lee recounted how Mr Lee would type/write him substantial letters of five to six pages on a weekly basis while he was schooling at Cambridge so that they could keep in constant contact. Mr Lee was always there for his children when they needed him; he offered advice but allowed them to chart their own paths. That to me showed how he understood true parenting. To his wife, Mdm Kwa Geok Choo, he was the ideal husband any lady could ask for. From reading to her daily to never failing to be there for her during crisis his unwavering commitment to their marriage is an inspiration to every couple in Singapore. To his people, he was like a fatherly figure always guiding and chaperoning his people. At the center of it all was a sincere heart, looking out for his children, wife and the people of Singapore.
A thought leader yet a people’s man, Mr Lee’s legacy will live on. The best way to honor a man’s legacy would be to continue his good works in his spirit. The future of Singapore is in our hands, he and his team have brought us thus far and the rest is up to us. I really hope Singaporeans take time to reflect about what is next for Singapore and how we want Singapore to be come SG100. It is time to step up and take ownership of our country, our Singapore. Because he once did, so must we. He would have wanted us to anyways.
May you rest in peace, Mr Lee. You will be dearly missed.
“Whoever governs Singapore must have that IRON in him. OR GIVE IT UP. This is not a game of cards. This is YOUR LIFE and MINE. I've spent a whole lifetime building this and as long as I'm in charge, nobody is going to knock it down.” (Speech at a rally in Raffles Place, Singapore in 1980)